Nursing Student Puts Human Trafficking Issue Center Stage at TEDx

Natalie Sassi’s ’23 took the stage at TEDxWidenerUniversity event to raise awareness on human trafficking and added some serious credentials to her résumé in the process.

Natalie Sassi
Class of 2023
  • School of Nursing
Career Plan: Nurse practitioner in community health settings

Natalie Sassi’s ’23 undergraduate career has been shaped by advocating for one of the leading issues found at the intersection of public health and social justice: human trafficking. The nursing major found her passion on the topic, and others in the public health domain, after transferring into Widener’s nursing program. 

The experiences she gained from meaningful clinical placements and in-depth research culminated on stage at the university’s TEDxWidenerUniversity event, where Natalie fiercely advocated for victims and survivors of human trafficking. 

“It is beneficial as a nursing student to become more comfortable presenting medical research and exploring potential resolutions to issues,” said Natalie.

Her time at Widener has given her the skills to be a compassionate nurse, and more importantly, an agent of change in the healthcare field and beyond. 


A Seamless Transfer and Transition

Natalie transferred to Widener at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pennsylvania native always had an interest in nursing, which she attributes to watching her mother’s nursing career. But the events that unfolded in the healthcare industry during COVID-19 ultimately solidified Natalie’s decision to pursue a nursing degree. 

“When the pandemic hit, I was inspired by the nurses and decided that this could be a good career path to put my best characteristics to use,” Natalie said. Sassi chose nursing because she believes that this career path will put her best characteristics to use, while serving the public.

Like many Widener students, the small class sizes and close relationships with faculty and staff drew Natalie to the Pride’s nationally-recognized School of Nursing

“I can appreciate the small student-to-professor ratios at Widener, since I learn best in intimate environments,” said Natalie, who added that “I chose Widener because I knew it would be a good fit since I could network with the area Philadelphia hospital systems without having to deal with the hustle and bustle of the city.” 

Career-Inspiring Clinical Placements

Natalie leveraged the program’s expansive hospital and healthcare network to secure clinical placements across settings and with different patient populations. Her favorite clinical was at the Steven Klein Wellness Center, a community health clinic in North Philadelphia. 

Natalie explains that in that role she was “able to examine the upstream factors that are affecting the community’s health. I was challenged to come up with creative solutions to improve the overall well-being of the community.”

The experience demonstrated how Natalie could use her degree in a public health setting to heal not only patients, but entire communities.  

I felt that in this setting I had a strong impact as a student through health education and empowerment.” —Natalie Sassi '23

Research that Matters

Student-led research is a staple of the Widener student experience and one that Natalie has taken full advantage of to bolster her academic career.

“I’ve been able to conduct research here [at Widener] on topics that I’m passionate about,” Natalie said.

After seeing a documentary on human trafficking, Natalie was drawn to the idea of utilizing her role as a nurse, and her experience in public health, to impact this leading social justice issue. She immersed herself in the topic and presented findings during Honors Week in 2022, which opened the door to spotlight the topic even further at Widener’s first TEDx event.

Taking the TEDx Stage

The inaugural TEDxWidenerUniversity event was held in September 2022 with five presenters; Natalie was among them and the only student-presenter. 

“I was shocked when I received an invitation to speak at TEDx because public speaking is not my forte but I agreed knowing it would be foolish to turn down such a great opportunity to raise awareness on human trafficking,” said Natalie.

In her TEDx presentation, Natalie highlighted how nurses can help to combat human trafficking and told the story of Dawn Schiller, a trafficking survivor who Natalie met at a panel discussion and was able to coordinate with during her research.

“Human trafficking is a crime hidden in plain sight and it’s crucial that everyone, not just healthcare professionals, are aware of the signs of it. It could be your friend or a family member who is affected by it,” said Natalie. 

According to Natalie, the opportunity further positioned her to be an effective and compassionate nurse who can identify victims and empower survivors. 

“Speaking at TEDx has given me confidence to speak on large-scale social issues. I am thrilled I was able to bring awareness to human trafficking, and will devote my nursing practice to creating positive change that empowers survivors,” Natalie said. 

Career Plan: Nurse practitioner in community health settings

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